While the idea of taking a break from the long days and high temperatures that come with training camp would be appealing to many NFL veterans, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard is hoping full a full workload at every single practice.
Dennard has been plagued by injuries ever since the Bengals drafted him in the first round in 2014, with the majority of his maladies surfacing during training camp.
In three NFL seasons, Dennard has played three of a possible 12 preseason games. And one of those resulted in him suffering a hip injury on his only snap of the game in the second preseason game during his rookie season.
“That’s a lot of (missed) reps, especially for a young guy that really hasn’t had an opportunity to play in the NFL, a lot of reps that guys like myself need,” said Dennard, who missed the final three preseasons games in 2015 with a groin injury and sat out the entire 2016 preseason with an ankle sprain suffered in the first week of camp.
“I’m looking forward to this training camp, this preseason,” he added. “Of course (the injury history) runs through your mind, but I’ve done everything I know how to do. All I can do is pray, work hard and take care of my body.”
Dennard has mostly managed to avoid injury in the regular season, appearing in 39 of a possible 48 games. The lone exception was in 2015 when, while making his first NFL start, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
A healthy camp is especially important this season, because there is a vacancy waiting to be filled in the starting lineup for the opener due to Adam Jones’ one-game suspension.
“That’s my goal since I got drafted here,” Dennard said. “It’s never changed. My goal is to be the starter and be the best corner on this team and one day one of the best in the NFL.”
In an effort to achieve that goal, and to better position himself to escape the rigors of camp unscathed, Dennard made some changes to his offseason regimen. In addition to the regular weight training, he incorporated yoga and a program called Animal Flow, which increases mobility, flexibility, strength and endurance by focusing on the joints.
Dennard said he weighed at 198 the day before camp started, compared his usual 200-202. And his goal is to start the season at 195.
“Sometimes 5 or 6 pounds for a defensive back can make a difference,” defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle said. “It’s not that they’re carrying bad weight necessarily, but the extra weight can affect your ability to change direction and things like that. We encouraged him. We’ve got a great relationship. I kid around with him about it.
“He’s in the best shape I’ve ever seen him,” Coyle said. “He had a good first day (Friday).”
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After missing the opener last year with the ankle injury that cost him the entire preseason, Dennard played in 14 of the final 15 games with three starts. He played mostly in the slot but started at left corner in Week 2 against Miami when Dre Kirkpatrick was injured.
“In the limited chances he’s had, he’s played well, both outside when he started the Miami game last year and also playing inside in the slot,” Coyle said. “I’m hoping and praying for him, and for us, because he’ll make our team better. I really want it for him because he’s a quality guy, a great teammate and it’s time for him to really be able to contribute to team. I think this is going to be the year.”
Dennard is one of four first-round cornerbacks on the roster, along with Jones, Kirkpatrick and William Jackson. And he knows it’s going to take a healthy preseason for him to show he compete with that group.
“My whole thing is just I want an opportunity to go out there and show everybody what I know I’m capable of doing,” Dennard said. “I think the coaches have faith in me. I have faith in myself. My teammates have faith in me. It’s all about me staying healthy and going out and doing what I know how to do.”